Badge of Inferiority`: A Historical Study of the Legal Battle to Achieve Equal Educational Opportunity for African Americans
Natasha Nicole Simone Barton
Robert L. Harris, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 1996 B293
viii, 117 leaves; 28 cm.
Forty years after the Brown v The Board of Education decision, the effectiveness of the desegregation decrees to create an equal and quality education for African American school children is of great concern to many Americans. In 1996, school boards around the nation have requested that they be released from court supervised desegregation orders citing that the resegregation of school districts is not state or locally imposed. Proponents of desegregation plans claim that integration is the only means by which to ensure that African American children receive a quality education. Critics argue, however, that not only has desegregation not improved the education of the masses of African American pupils, but that in many respects, it has caused the further segregation of inner city schools, as well as incited the constant movement of upper and mid-class white and Black urbanites into the suburbs. Still, other opponents of forced integration maintain that both African American students and predominantly Black neighborhood schools have been stigmatized by the Brown decision.
This thesis explores the legal evolution of the "separate but equal" doctrine in respect to the Black public educational systems. The argument put forward is that both legal segregation and forced integration (or desegregation) have had a detrimental affect on African American students as well as Black educational institutions. This thesis traces historically nearly one hundred and fifty years of educational court decisions. The very first court case, Roberts v the City of Boston litigated in 1849, questioned whether the Boston School Board Committee had the authority to segregate African school children simply because of race. Roberts set into motion a struggle between Africans and the American judicial system to determine whether racial distinctions were a justifiable means by which to separate human beings. This thesis maintains that the Roberts' precedent established the "separate but equal" doctrine, which later fortified Jim Crow practices.
The Roberts' verdict was employed less than fifty years later in the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision which mandated legal segregation throughout the South. The thesis explores the ramifications of Plessy and the manifestations of different forms of segregation that cropped up throughout the North and the South. Northern defacto segregation operated under a system where African Americans attended neighborhood schools located in residentially segregated areas. In the South, dejure segregation imposed a system of exploitation where tax paying southern Black parents had to privately finance the public education of their children.
In 1954, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) lawyers argued that publicly segregated schools caused a "badge of inferiority" on the "hearts and mind" of African American students which could never be "undone." The Supreme Court's acceptance of the controversial arguments ushered forward four decades of court imposed remedies, particularly busing, to achieve racial balance in public schools. Since Brown's May 17, 1954 decision, many white city officials, school boards, parents and students have attempted to resist any endeavor to desegregate White public schools. The Swann and Milliken cases of 1970's illustrates the Supreme Court's effort to enforce an "integrated" quality school system.
The thesis concludes by investigating the new segregated public schools of the 1990's. The notion of community based neighborhood schools as an answer to the problems facing predominately Black urban schools is explored. This thesis is designed to stimulate questions rather than to provide answers to the complexities involved in today's predominantly Black urban public schools.